As a full-time student, I know how stressful university can be at times and trust me, I do not deal well with stress.

While some people use alcohol or drugs to decompress at the end of a hectic day, I like to get a good sweat in at the gym — but I wasn’t always like this.

As a kid, I used food as my safety net. Food was my best friend when I was sad or bored and more importantly, eating helped me clear my mind even if it was just for a few moments.

When I was seven my parents got a divorce and like most kids who have experienced their parents breaking up, I didn’t handle it very well. It became hard for me to express how I really felt and I would keep all my emotions bottled up inside until the point of breaking. What a better way to express my feelings than by eating them.

From the age of seven until my first year of university, I was in a constant cycle of using food as my emotional crutch. Fast forward to the end of my second semester at Ryerson and I was sitting at a whopping 185 pounds and hated everything about my body.

I was never the athletic type. I was terrible at sports, I had no coordination and on top of that I had asthma, so I had already ruled myself out as someone that would excel in athletics and I sure as hell never thought I could be in shape.

Gym class was ironically one of my favourite classes as a kid but I never took exercise seriously. In Grade 11 I asked my mom for a GoodLife Fitness membership; we would go a couple times a week but after each workout I would still go get a donut or fries from the restaurant next door as a reward for my efforts and end up back at square one. I had absolutely no self control.

Don’t get me wrong — I am a HUGE foodie but my eating habits were negatively impacting my health. To make matters worse, I would try quick fad diets and do “15 minute abs” videos at home while my mom was at work, with the hopes of getting in shape.

I wanted to have a flat stomach, smaller arms and to be “skinny” like all the other girls in my class. But what I didn’t realise was that my poor eating habits, quick diets and fast weight loss goals were part of a larger issue.

(Courtesy of Christine Ramnarine)

I was a compulsive overeater. While compulsive overeating is not considered to be an eating disorder, behaviours such as recurring binge eating, feeling guilty after eating and weight gain are all linked to possibly spearheading an eating disorder in the future.

According to a 2014 report from the House of Commons, at any given time between 600,000 and 900,000 Canadians will suffer from an eating disorder per year. More specifically, 80 per cent of those with eating disorders are women who can have one as early as in grade school. However, symptoms of an eating disorder can happen at any age.

Additionally, according to the Canadian Paediatric Society, “body dissatisfaction and unhealthy weight loss practices have been found to be more common in teenagers affected by a chronic illness” including asthma, which I have. Teenagers who also experience depression, anxiety and high levels of stress are more likely to engage in extreme dieting practices.

I then came to the conclusion that at this point in my adolescence, I was no longer eating because of an experience I had as a kid — I was eating for the sake of it and I needed to change my state of mind.

By the end of my first year in university, with the support of a friend and countless hours spent watching workout tutorials on YouTube, I decided to walk back in the gym for the first time in years and I actually enjoyed it.

As the weeks went by I felt myself getting more comfortable in the gym, working out slowly became the best part of my day. For once in my life, I felt like I actually had control over how I felt both internally and externally.

Working out and eating healthy is also known to be good for those who suffer from mental health issues and in moderation is even good for those with eating disorders. A 2016 study from the World Psychiatric Association found those who conducted moderate levels of physical activity on a regular basis had their mental health improve greatly. Additionally, when people sought to make changes to improve their self esteem, body image and physical fitness, their overall quality of life improved.

I truly noticed a difference once midterms came along and I wasn’t shoving a bag of chips in my mouth to destress. Rather, I would utilize my study break to go workout and let out some steam. Working out allowed me to clear my mind and get in shape at the same time — what a perfect 2-for-1 deal.

It is important to note that it is best to consult a medical professional before starting a new diet or exercise routine. Everyone’s journey whether it is fitness, physical or mental health related is their own journey to take and should not be criticized.

For me, fitness is everything I didn’t think I needed.

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